By TIM ROWDEN
Hundreds of St. Louis fast food workers joined forces with thousands of low-wage workers who walked off their jobs last week in an unprecedented wave of strikes in seven cities across the country. Workers who went on strike in the spring in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and Milwaukee were expected to be joined by fast-food workers in Kansas City and Flint, Mich. as the fight for $15-an-hour, the right to form a union without retaliation and the end of unfair labor practices gets bigger, bolder and stronger.
Beginning July 29, workers in participating cities began walking off their jobs at some of the most prominent national fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. Retail workers at stores like Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Dollar Tree were expected to join the strikes in some cities. The walkouts were expected to extend through Thursday.
ST. LOUIS ACTION
The walkouts in St. Louis began at noon July 29 at the McDonald’s at 4420 South Broadway and were followed by a second walkout after Labor Tribune press time at the McDonald’s at 9131 W. Florissant. Workers walked out July 30 at Wendy’s, Burger King, White Castle, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, Domino’s, Arby’s, Hardee’s, and Jack in the Box.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus including Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) and Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) joined fast food, clergy and community supporters on the strike lines.
At the McDonald’s on South Broadway, Justin Johnson, 19, a cook who has worked for McDonald’s for two years and walked out of the South Broadway location July 29 to join supporters on the strike line. He makes Missouri’s minimum wage of $7.35 an hour, but dreams of opening a bakery.
It’s hard to achieve that dream, he said, given that even when he works overtime, he doesn’t get paid for it. “If you work overtime, they take it out of your next week’s hours,” he said. “I’m here to push this cause. We need $15 and a union. We work too hard for $7.35.”
MOVEMENT GAINING SUPPORT
Dozens of clergy, community, and labor organizations around the country are stepping up their support and resources to the workers. The campaigns are being run on the ground by local labor-community-clergy alliances, Jobs with Justice, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is lending staff to help train organizers on the ground in each of the cities.
“SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push down benefit standards for working people,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “That's why SEIU members are proud to give support to fast food and retail workers who are fighting for higher wages that will boost the economy for all of us.”
The strikes are the latest in an escalating series of walkouts by workers across the country. Federally-contracted workers in Washington have walked off their jobs; a growing cadre of Walmart workers have gone on strike; and fast-food workers across the country went on strike earlier this year.
‘STL CAN’T SURVIVE ON $7.35’
The walkouts in St. Louis are being coordinated by the St. Louis Organizing Committee, an independent union of fast food workers formed in February. The workers’ “STL Can’t Survive on $7.35” campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.
The strikes come on a the heels of a national wave of low-wage worker walkouts, including a strike by federally-contracted workers in Washington, DC, strikes last month by Walmart workers, walkouts by fast-food workers in Seattle, Detroit, St. Louis and New York and combined fast-food and retail worker strikes in Chicago and Milwaukee.
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors. Economists, elected leaders and others are citing evidence that stagnating wages and the proliferation of low-wage jobs are hampering the nation’s recovery.
(See full coverage of the St. Louis strikes in the Aug. 8-14 edition of the Labor Tribune and on this website thereafter.)